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“We have an abnormally high incidence of cerebral palsy amongst our children”, says activist Tiny Dlamini, a resident from Snake Park, living in the shadow of unused gold and uranium mines . “The cause is either the arsenate, lead poisoning or radioactivity of the mining pollution from the tailing dams in Soweto. Then again it could be any of the heavy metals – uranium, cadmium, mercury… We eat the dust. It gets in our food. Affected children walk to school with portable oxygen tanks. Two thirds of our community’s health issues are respiratory problems. When it rains the pools of water are red, blue or green. When its overcast you can see and smell the fumes rise from the sink holes. There is no wildlife left here and if you find a frog its deformed, like the many domestic animal births.” There are 6 000 abandoned mines in South Africa and 600 of those mines are in the Johannesburg area.
“Mining is a violence against the earth.” Environmental scientist Khalid Mather (WildOceans) was moved to declare after listening to so many testimonies of people from mining affected communities during the latest SA National Alternative Mining Indaba. He has been campaigning against the offshore oil and gas development happening at breakneck speed along our coastline, care of the Blue Economy drive of Zuma’s Operation Phakisa. He knows there has never been a successful mechanical clean-up after an oil spill and he knows the cost of the all too frequent leaks to the ocean bioweb he enthuses about. He spoke about the cutting piles that will litter our seabed when ENI and Sasol start exploring this year and the effects of their toxicity, radioactivity and contaminants.
Mining is, of course, also a devastating violence against the communities impacted by it, oftentimes those living with poverty, inequality and marginalization.
The top picture is of Mrs Zwane whose home was less than a kilometre from Buffalo Colliery in Danhauser. The blasting from the mine cracked her home irreparably. When Sisonke Environmental Justice Network stepped in the mine did relocate Mrs Zwane, but she leaves her livelihood – her oranges and mielies – along with her land, which holds the graves of her ancestors, behind. She is now destitute. Will she ever see compensation for these losses?
The recent ground-breaking ( Isn’t it telling that ‘to break the ground’ means progress ?) High Court ruling on the Xolobeni case has confirmed their right for Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC).
The latest Oxfam and Legal Resources Centre report* defines FPIC as meaning the community’s decision should be “made free from any obligation, duty, force or coercion with alternative development options available to the community to guarantee that the decision is based on real choice. Secondly, the community is entitled to make the development choice prior to any similar decisions made by government, finance institutions or investors. In other words, FPIC is not realised if the community is presented with a project as a fait accompli . Thirdly, the community must be able to make an informed decision. That means that they should be provided sufficient information to understand the nature and scope of the project, including its projected environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts. Such information should be objective and based on a principle of full disclosure. The community should be afforded enough time to digest and debate the information. Finally, consent means that the community’s decision may be to reject the proposed development. They can say no. ”
Mining creates significant problems for both socioeconomic, participatory and environmental rights. It pollutes what we should hold dear – land, sea sky and water. It is a violence against nature, people and future generations. The word ‘sustainable’ cannot, and should not, be allied to mining – it is extractive. The very few exploit half the globe to maintain their standards of living and the development paradigm that has not delivered on its promise of happiness, freedom, dignity or peace, even for those who have profited from it.
*See the Oxfam and Legal Resources Centre report Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the Extractive Industries in Southern Africa: An Analysis of Legislation and their Implementation in Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia (available at
Thank you for this important article.